Email Marketing can be a confusing topic, especially when everyone usually uses the term email marketing as one generic medium. There are many different types of email marketing and I will discuss the basics of each of them, to try and simplify the varied usages. Email marketing is directly marketing a commercial message to a group of people using electronic mail (email). In its broadest sense, every email sent to a potential or current customer could be considered email marketing. It usually involves using email to send ads, request business, or solicit sales or donations, and is meant to build loyalty, trust, or brand awareness. Email marketing can be done to either cold lists or current customer database. Broadly, the term is usually used to refer to:

  • Sending email messages with the purpose of enhancing the relationship of a merchant with its current or previous customers, to encourage customer loyalty and repeat business,
  • Sending email messages with the purpose of acquiring new customers or convincing current customers to purchase something immediately,
  • Adding advertisements to email messages sent by other companies to their customers

Researchers estimate that United States firms alone spent US $1.51 billion on email marketing in 2011 and will grow to $2.468 billion by 2016.

Before we begin to delve into this explanation, there is a need to understand the difference between first party and third party email marketing.

First Party Email Marketing – These are emails that are sent out by the company that collected them and had the individual signup and/or optin at their website. The email campaign being sent is in regards to the company’s own services or products.

Third Party Email Marketing – These are email that are being sent out to individuals who have signed up at a website but the products or services being advertised in these email campaigns are unrelated to the company who collected them.

Now let’s look at the different type of first and third party email campaigns.

First Party Usage

Transactional Email – These are emails primarily containing information about current or prior business dealings, such as confirmation of a sale, a registration number, an invoice, or an opt-in or opt-out confirmation.

Newsletter Email – Generally used to describe a periodic publication distributed by email to an opt-in list of subscribers. Newsletters are normally used by organizations or owners of a website to communicate with their readers.

Promotional Email – This type of email marketing campaign is used to create awareness, educate or sell a product or service. Promotional email marketing is advertising created with the sole purpose of increasing sales. It generally includes an incentive, such as a special sale price, gift with purchase, coupon or other limited time offer. These promotional emails are sent to individuals who signed up at the website who is sending them the email.

Third Party Usage

Third party email campaigns are used for promotional purposes by a company who did not build the email list from optins or signups on their own website, but rather purchased, rented or aggregated these email addresses from other website owners where these individuals gave permission to have their emails used for marketing purposes. Companies who build optin email lists sometimes work with “email list managers” to manage their email data and send promotional offers to it and split the net proceeds earned from the email campaigns.

On occasion, these email addresses are “permission passed”, where a company who was not the company or website that collected the email addresses originally, sends an email to these individuals asking for permission to send them promotions from their company.


Opt-in email is a term used when someone is given the option to receive “bulk” email, that is, email that is sent to many people at the same time. Typically, this is some sort of mailing list, newsletter, or advertising. Without obtaining permission before sending email, the email is unsolicited bulk email, better known as spam.

There are several common forms of opt-in email:

Unconfirmed opt-in

Someone first uses their email address to sign up to receive email information from a website owner, but no steps are taken to make sure that this address actually belongs to the person submitting it. This can cause email from the mailing list to be considered spam because simple typos of the email address can cause the email to be sent to someone else. Malicious subscriptions are also possible, as are subscriptions that are due to spammers forging email addresses that are sent to the email address used to subscribe to the mailing list.

Confirmed opt-in

A new subscriber asks to be subscribed to the mailing list, but unlike unconfirmed opt-in, a confirmation email is sent to verify it was really them. Generally, unless the explicit step is taken to verify the end-subscriber’s email address, such as clicking a special web link or sending back a reply email, it is difficult to establish that the email address in question indeed belongs to the person who submitted the request to receive the email. Using a confirmed opt-in procedure helps to ensure that a 3rd party is not able to subscribe someone else accidentally, or out of malice, since if no action is taken on the part of the email recipient, they will simply no longer receive any messages from the list operator. Email system administrators and non-spam mailing list operators refer to this as confirmed subscription or closed-loop opt-in.

Some marketers call closed-loop opt-in “double opt-in”. This term was coined by marketers in the late 90s to differentiate it from what they call “single opt-in”, where a new subscriber to an email list gets a confirmation email telling them they will begin to receive emails if they take no action. Some marketers contend that “double opt-in” is like asking for permission twice and that it constitutes unnecessary interference with someone who has already said they want to hear from the marketer. The term double opt-in has also been co-opted by spammers, diluting its value.

Read More: Email Marketing History

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